April 21 will mark 100 years since the death of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Despite all that time, Twain is still considered the greatest humorist in American literature. Adored by millions, he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty. And yet, despite all his enormous success, Twain died almost penniless (which I’m guessing he didn’t find too humorous).
When you’re on the computer next, type “Mark Twain Quotes” and you’ll find numerous Web sites devoted to his work. Among my favorites of his quotes is one about history. As Twain put it, “It’s only the winner’s version.”
In fact history is often downright dishonest. Consider the Vietnam War. One of my readers, and a harsh critic of mine, served in Vietnam. He insists the Gulf of Tonkin attack, which LBJ used to widen the war, happened as we were told. Recent evidence suggests that it never happened. At best it was a misinterpreted radar signal, at worst, unspeakable deceit.
LBJ once joked about the so-called Gulf of Tonkin attack, “Hell, for all I know it was a whale.” That reminds me of Bush’s joking at a White House Correspondents Dinner about the missing WMDs. As he looked under the podium he giggled, “They gotta be somewhere.” (Both are from Texas, both architects of ill-advised wars and both stand up comedians?)
The Vietnam War was sold to the American people as necessary because of the “domino theory.” The logic was that if Vietnam fell to Communism, all of South East Asia would fall. In 1975 Vietnam did fall but the “domino theory” proved false.
In re-establishing relations with Vietnam in 1995, Bill Clinton asked former secretary of defense, the late Robert McNamara, to go to Hanoi. He was to discuss the war with his former North Vietnamese counterpart to see if any truth could be gleaned.
As reported by McNamara the meeting was quite cordial. Personally, I’m at a loss to explain how the Vietnamese forgave our defoliating, and otherwise leveling, their country with Agent Orange, napalm and 8,000,000 tons of bombs (300 tons for every man, woman and child in Vietnam).
McNamara was stunned by a question from the former Vietnamese foreign minister, one for which he had no answer. “Mr. McNamara, you must never have read a history book. If you had, you’d know we weren’t pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. Don’t you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1,000 years?”
Apparently McNamara never got around to that book. And as a result a mere 58,159 Americans died, 303,635 were wounded and 1,724 are still missing. Oh well.
I mention all of this because this Tuesday, April 13, the City Council is having a Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. The same camps that Hunter Gibson, Mel’s father, and Iranian President Ahmadinejad (hate to get that on a spelling bee) say never happened, or that the number of Jewish dead was actually far fewer than reported — like that would matter.
Apparently the event is being held, in large part, due to my column of Jan. 15, “Reflections of a survivor.” That piece chronicled the 2-1/2 years that 86-year-old Santa Monica resident Sally Breiter (maiden name Salome Hollander), along with her sister and mother, were on the run from the Nazis. Sally, who was 17 at the time, is being given a commendation by the council in the name of all those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust in the hope that it will never happen again.
Interestingly, within blocks of where I live are three people, including Sally, who were directly affected by the Holocaust. Lelian Schnapman, who like Sally, lived in Belgium, was taken prisoner by the Nazis at age 15. Lelian wound up at Auschwitz Birkenau, a notorious death camp, where she spent a brutal seven months until the end of the war. Lelian does not like talking about it, and who can blame her?
Liliane Pelzman’s story is quite different because it was her mother, Sonja Rosenstein, who spent years in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Remarkably, Sonja survived the unimaginable horrors, and, at 87, still lives in her native Holland.
Liliane wrote a heart wrenching book “And No More Sorrow,” which has as a telling subtitle, “A mother, her daughter, their war.” Even though Liliane was born after the war, her mother relived it throughout Liliane’s childhood. Fortunately, in writing the book, Liliane was able to finally heal her relationship with her mother. (It’s on the Internet at: andnomoresorrow.com.)
Talking to those who directly experienced the Holocaust often leaves me discouraged about man’s inhumanity. A quote of Twain’s says it best. “Sometimes I think it a pity that Noah and his party didn’t miss the boat.”
Holocaust Remembrance Day, including Sally Breiter’s commendation will be observed at the April 13 City Council meeting at City Hall at approximately 7 p.m. If you, or a loved one, have a Holocaust experience you want to share, Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com. Lastly, today is my sister, Brenda’s, 70th birthday, though her age must be a typo!